News that Adam Popp, an USAF vet from OEF who lost his lower leg, was denied seating in the exit row on an Alaska Air flight to DCA.  Adam is a 12-year veteran of the Air Force who served as an EOD Team Leader in Afghanistan in 2007.  He lost his lower leg to an IED there and medically retired from the USAF in 2009.  Adam is very active and you would never know he had a prosthetic leg if he had long pants on.  However, he chose to wear shorts that day which clearly displayed his prosthetic leg.  On this long transcon flight he had selected the Exit Row.  The Flight Attendant insisted that he move from the Exit Row or he would call law enforcement.  Adam knew better than to make a fuss out of it and moved, but he ensured that he raised the issue once he landed.   Here is an interesting page about Adam and the organization where he works for wounded vets.

His tweet on the incident was “Kicked out of the exit row for wearing a prosthesis, against 8900.1 chap 33 para C. 3. c. @AlaskaAir #MemorialDay

I will admit that I am sensitive to the way society treats “disabled” veterans.  You see, I never saw my father walk.  He was a WW2 Navy Medic who went to college on the GI Bill and applied to, and was accepted, to Boston University Medical School.  He volunteered to work in a polio ward the summer between graduating from Emory and starting med school.  While serving there, he contracted the often deadly disease, and became a quadriplegic staying alive in an iron lung.  He battled back to become “only” a paraplegic and went on to attend med school the next year as part of the first class to ever allow disabled students to become doctors.  He did well, becoming a successful child psychiatrist, worked for the VA, married a nurse there and had five kids.  As the eldest, I was the skinny 7 year old who had to help my Dad up a street corner curb or ask strangers for help to carry him to the beach.  I get the difficulties that the handicapped face, but fortunately (or unfortunately) we have a whole new generation of vets with new technology to face these challenges.  I personally would have complete confidence that Adam would open that Exit Door if needed.  Frankly, I have a lot more confidence that he could accomplish that mission than the 100 lb. overweight passenger who I have seen in an Exit Row.

Alaska Airlines responded that the FAA has issued conflicting guidance on who may sit in the Exit Row.  I expect the “conflict” is the definition of able-bodied which unfortunately still faces some prejudices in today’s society.  As many of you  know, I am a big fan of AS, but they definitely need some retraining for their FAs.  Voice your opinion on this issue and let AS know that this is unacceptable behavior to our combat veterans.  They face many challenges and sitting in the Exit Row should not be one of them.

Posted by glenn | 15 Comments

15 responses to “Veteran Kicked Out of Exit Row by Alaska FA Due to Prosthesis”

  1. ffi says:

    I really respect your blog, but I agree with Alaska
    Who are they to make their own rules?
    The rules are for everyone and it is their job to follow them, even if stupid.
    Why should we turn phones off during taxi?
    We know it does nothing, but we are made to do it anyway.
    Can you imagine the military if everyone was looking at the meaning of rules first before obeying them?

    What is the real definition of able bodied?
    I am sure he is physically more fit perhaps than the majority of Americans, but there is the fear of liability.
    If the FAA clarifies it, then fine, otherwise it is a case of don’t ask don’t tell in life outside the military.

    So I can understand why he was allowed to be in an exit with pants, but not with shorts. The issue of whether he is able bodied is raised.
    I do not grudge him an exit row. In fact, if he had been upgraded to F that would be OK with me.

    I do admire the Veterans behavior. I would have probably made a fuss if it had happened to me, but I applaud his exemplary public actions. Do not make a fuss at the time – then take it up through the channels. SOP.

  2. Mike says:

    We should honor the vets but we have to realize the FA doesnt know how able he is so the FA needs to go with the safest option than to be sorry later.
    I agree with the FA.

  3. Dom says:

    This is a safety issue, not a disabled issue. Emergency exit evacuation requires mobility, strength, dexterity and balance. It’s duties should be left to the fully able-bodied. Lives are potentially at stake.

    • glenn says:

      @ Dom and everyone – So who can say that they have not seen someone seated in the Exit Row and thought “there is no way I am depending on that guy/gal to get the door open? The FA asks each passenger if they are “ready, willing, and able” and I have never seen them call out the 300 lb. guy or the 90 lb. gal. I have only ever seen them remove someone when it was obvious that they could not understand English and that was absolutely the right call. I am not militant about this, but if we are trusting all people when they say they can handle the job, then let’s apply that to everyone.

  4. Brian says:

    Sorry, but siding with Alaska on this one… The FA’s job is to represent the company and provide a safe environment. The FA has to use their best judgement. If I were in that situation, I would have done the same. Not saying Popp wasn’t willing and able, but it was a fair call.

  5. Andy says:

    I have the utmost respect for you, your father, and this vet who sacrificed heavily for his country. However, I agree with the posters above. :-/ The better thing to do, imho, would’ve been to try to bump him to first, as they should really do for any vet over any level of elite flyer.

    • glenn says:

      @ Andy – Agree a bump to FC would have been the right answer. Hell, I’d give up my FC seat if the FA explained that situation to me.

  6. Scott says:

    This is a tricky interpretation of the FAA’s rules regarding exit row seating. FAR 121.585(b)(1):

    “The person lacks sufficient mobility, strength, or dexterity in both arms and hands, and both legs:”

    and goes on to list things related to moving and operating the exit row door. It’s debatable whether or not when the FAA says “both legs” they mean physical legs, or if prosthetic would suffice. Unfortunately, like a lot of FAA regulations, this lives in the grey area, and isn’t spelled out in black and white.

  7. Fred says:

    The veteran is over exaggerating it by saying “kicked out”.. The FA must have asked him politely, atleast initially, to be re-seated…and then again these are FAA rules and you should not be meddling around with those even though you may be a veteran

  8. Billy says:

    I don’t object to the FA’s actions based on the information provided. I wish there was an overall fitness requirement to sit in those rows…as indeed the 300lbs pax or the 85lbs small pax, though perhaps both functional, aren’t the individuals one would want leading the emergency exit effort. It would create awkward moments when either pax was asked to move, but the alternative is far worse.

  9. Steve J. says:

    Not sure how this is considered ‘nondiscriminatory’, since the FA took one look and made an assumption. FAA Guidance is very clear with regards to passengers wearing a prosthesis.


    C. Selection Criteria.

    3) The airline employee designated to determine who may be assigned to an exit seat must make this assessment in a nondiscriminatory manner by consistent application of the neutral criteria.

    c) For example, if a passenger with a prosthesis is being evaluated for assignment to an exit seat, the presence of the prosthesis would not be the determinant for being able to meet the criteria but rather the physical ability to perform the exit seat duties.

  10. Patty M says:

    Was the passenger wearing his prosthetic while he was seated in the exit row? The photo that I saw on the news looked like his prosthesis had been removed and was sitting on the floor at his seat. If he wasn’t wearing it, then I feel the FAR was not being followed.

  11. None says:

    You can’t sit in an exit row if you have a prosthesis, veteran or not. That’s it.

  12. Nigel says:

    Most respect to all veterans that served and protected us.

    But, my point is if he wasn’t a vet would this have been known? Most likely not, I travel a bit and see this happen on most of the flights where the FA would move people around, but I NEVER see those people get that attention like this one did. Also, did the FA assume that because he had a prosthetic leg the FA knew he was a vet to begin with? Most likely not. Does this particular attendant normal do this all the time on his flight? Most likely if he did it would out question. I’m sure after all settled and what was said and done it was make public that he was a vet.

    I’m an A & P mechanic i follow these same rules that’s written in the CFR/FAR if i decided to do my own thing and let the rules slide a bit, not only i put 100’s of people’s life at risk, i put my name and life on the line too. Rules and regulation are put in place for many reasons most likely written in blood.

  13. L says:

    I cannot believe how IGNORANT people are!!! Everyone keeps citing this “LAW” that the flight attendent was supposedly following. But not one person bothered to look it up to avoid looking like a dumbass. FAA Regulation 8900.1, Vol 3, Ch 33, Section 6, Para 3-3572 (3)(c)(3), CLEARLY STATES:

    “if a passenger with a prosthesis is being evaluated for assignment to an exit seat, the presence of the prosthesis would not be the determinant for being able to meet the criteria but rather the physical ability to perform the exit seat duties.”

    Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself. Here’s the link.,Vol.3,Ch33,Sec6

    In the future, before you take such a rigid stance on something, how about making sure you konw what the hell you’re talking about. It will save you from looking like such an ignorant buffaoon.

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